Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Reply by Seely
Paul H. Seely
2365 S.F. 60th Portland, Oregon 97215
From JASA 21 (September 1969): 94
Thank you for the opportunity to reply to Drs. Harris and Newman [same issue ed.]. Dr. Harris appeals to guilt by association, name-dropping, glittering generality, ad hominem argument, begging the question, name-calling, and a series of unsubstantiated generalities and logical non-sequiturs. If I am wrong in my understanding of God's written Word, I sincerely desire correction. But, is it too much to ask that before recanting I be shown from Scripture, lexica, linguistics, or logic that the Biblical firmament is not solid, and that Sheol is not conceived in part as a subterranean realm of the dead?
Dr. Newman's response to my article seems sincere but a little too facile. No one disagrees that all the Bible is inspired, but the nature of inspiration is subject to definition. And orthodox systematic theology has ever made distinctions that the Bible does not explicitly make. The question is, which direction does the evidence move the distinctions?
As for etymology, Old Testament scholars often use it for presumptive evidence, even though it is a broken reed. However, I scarcely depend on etymology to define "firmament." Nor is Job 37:18 "the major point" of my case. I build my case on the gestalt and cumulative weight of a number of arguments, particularly as seen against the total lack of arguments for a non-solid firmament.
ConcerningJob 37:18, one must realize that serious linguistics does not see words as univocal. The word sahaq does mean cloud in other places, but previous usage does not determine its meaning in Job 37:18. The word sapah, e.g., literally means "lip" in other places; but in job 12:20, it means "speech", and in Psalm 81:5, "language." One could translate job 12:20, and Psalm 81:5 "lip"; and even we understand, "Don't give me any of your lip." But even if one insists on such a rigid and literal translation one cannot argue that the qualitative nature of "lip" in job 12:20 or Psalm 81:5 is fleshly with blond and nerves. Most translators also will translate less literally in the first place, realizing that since "lip" is so closely associated with "speech" and "language" in some cases this word really refers to speech or language rather than to a literal lip. Similarly one can translate job 37:18 with "clouds," but even then one cannot argue that the qualitative nature of that which is spead out is not solid, but airy. For clouds in the Old Testament are so closely associated with heaven or firmament that in some cases "cloud" really refers to heaven or the firmament rather than to a literal cloud. One can see the close association that clouds have with heaven in the parallelism of Job 20:6, Isaiah 14:14, and Jeremiah 51:9, so close that the word sahaq, "cloud," is better translated "skies" or "heaven" or "firmament" in Pss. 36:5, 57:10 and 89:6, not to mention job 37:18. To many Hebrew minds, the clouds were about as high as one could go, bordering on the firmament itself. Deny the translation of "cloud' by "firmament" in the name of literalism, and one ends up with the embarassing theology that says that God's faithfulness reaches to the clouds, Psalm 36:5-the clouds, so low that even the moon is still thousands of miles higher, not to mention the upper limits of the universe. Since God's faithfulness reaches so much higher than the clouds, univocal literalism would make Psalm 36:5 blasphemous.
Really now, if it weren't for a priori commitment to an untraconservative tradition, would there be any who would argue against the Biblical picture of a three-storied universe?